My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Frank Munk, my grandfather, wrote this autobiography to record his memories
from 1901 onwards. This history and its postscript are available on our family website in his
memory as they tell a complete story of the 20th century. These memoirs may be referenced as
long as proper attribution is made; our family retains ownership and copyright. We have one
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© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families
BENES IN CHICAGO
I met regularly
with a group of young politicians, economists, managers, and lawyers at the home
of Václav Havel, father of the future (and last) President of Czechoslovakia.
The future president was only a minor nuisance then, together with his brother.
They were respectively two to three years old. We met about once a week in the
patrician house built by the president's grandfather on the quay of the Vltava,
with a magnificent view of the Hradcany Castle, the seat of emperors and
membership varied, but it included some of the contemporary leading lights among
intellectuals. Many of them were close to Dr. Benes, who became President after
the abdication of President Masaryk, who died in 1937. Theirs was to be a tragic
fate: some became members of the brief government which tried to govern with
Communists from 1945 until the putsch of 1948. Some joined President Hácha, who
became the figurehead of the so-called Protectorate under Hitler. Still others
collaborated openly with the Nazis and disappeared in the outer darkness after
the allied victory.
When they learned
that I was about to leave for the United States, they asked me to meet with
Benes and deliver a number of recommendations. I also carried messages, without,
of course, a single piece of paper, from other groups and grouplets, future
cells of a growing underground. President Benes himself had abdicated shortly
after the Munich surrender to become Visiting Professor at the University of
Chicago. He left home sometime in October.
As a result, my
first stop after our arrival in America on June 26, 1939, and a few days in New
York was Chicago. The Czech Ambassador in London, Jan Masaryk, had already
advised Benes of my arrival and Benes arranged with the university a series of
lectures that I was to give. Incidentally, they provided more than enough money
for my ticket to Portland, my first gainful employment in the New World.
I spent several
days with President Benes, sometimes just the two of us, sometimes at a
conference organized by the Harris Foundation and at other times at a session
with leaders of Czech and Slovak organizations in the USA, as well as editors of
Czech and Slovak newspapers. For me, the private conversations were the most
exciting. Benes had two main themes: he defended his decision to accept the
Dictate of Munich and to give up the borderlands in Bohemia and Moravia without
a fight. I must say this was not accepted by the group that met at Havels and we
had made that clear to Benes at the time. We, and I think the majority of the
Czechs, wanted to stand up to Hitler and fight. Benes, it seemed to me, felt
guilty for having surrendered, and till the end of his life he tried to explain
his decision to himself and to the Czech people.
His explanation was
that we could not have defended ourselves in case of war, that we could not have
resisted the German army for more than three weeks, and that it would not only
have devastated the country, but the Germans would have totally annihilated the
However, the thing
that made the biggest impression on me, and remained embedded in my memory, was
his scenario for the future. He said in so many words that he expected the war
to start soon, that in the beginning England and France would stand alone, and
that the war would go badly for them, but that at least England would hold, and
that it would finally be won by the Soviet Union. The last point sticks in my
mind, because Benes, while severely criticizing the French and British
government, expressed great confidence in the Soviets and their decisive part in
the war. I was rather surprised to hear him say that, but he repeated it several
One of the messages
I had brought from Prague was that he ought to leave Chicago, return to Europe,
and start organizing a government-in-exile. He said he already had decided to do
so, that he was only waiting to see President Roosevelt (he had already spoken
to Secretary of State Cordell Hull), and that he would settle in London. There
are some historians who believe that the main reasons for his haste were not
only my messages, but also the fear that the Czech Minister in Paris, Osusky,
might try to do the same thing in Paris.
In addition to
Benes, I also met other prominent Czechs, among them the President's nephew,
Bohus Benes, whom I later got to know very intimately. He became Czechoslovak
Consul in San Francisco while I was teaching at the University of California in
[Note: In 1994, my grandfather
addendum to this chapter that offers additional insights on these
books listed below provide additional background on this period of history to
help illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.